By Max De Haldevang
LONDON (Reuters) - Tweeting and texting while watching TV is supplanting the traditional water-cooler chat about the previous night's viewing among increasingly media-savvy Britons, the country's telecoms regulator has found.
"Just a few years ago, we would be talking about last night's TV at work or at school. Now, we're having those conversations live while watching TV - using social media, text and instant messaging," James Thickett, director of research at regulator Ofcom, said.
Just over half of adults own a smartphone and 24 percent of households has a tablet computer, Ofcom said in its annual Communications Market Report. It said some 53 percent of consumers weekly use such devices in "media multi-tasking" - watching television while engaging with another form of media.
In addition, 24 percent of adults did "media-meshing" every week in 2012, which involves watching TV while using other media devices in a way that relates to a program - for example, by talking about it on the phone, tweeting about it or using an app that engages directly with the program.
Andy Murray's Wimbledon tennis victory last month was a striking example of media-meshing, as 1.1 million people worldwide tweeted 2.6 million times with hashtags that related to the match, 80 percent of which were sent from mobile devices.
The increase in usage of smartphones such as Apple Inc's iPhone and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd's Galaxy has corresponded with a further drop in voice calls to the lowest point since Ofcom's predecessor Oftel began regulating telecoms in the 1980s.
Text message usage has also fallen, with 54 percent of adults saying they use texts to communicate daily, a drop of 5 percentage points from 2011. Many say they send fewer texts due to the availability of instant messaging services such as Blackberry Ltd's Messenger, WhatsApp or Facebook Inc.
The report also said young people find it increasingly appropriate to communicate delicate news using text-based methods either online or by phone, as 16 percent of 16-24 year-olds said they would end a relationship via text-based mediums.
(Editing by David Holmes)